There’s a video “public service announcement” making the rounds right now called “Demand a Plan to End Gun Violence” or, as Upworthy dubbed it, “They Packed More Pissed-Off Celebrities Than I Could Count Into A 1-Minute Video.” It is simply a number of celebrities saying names of mass shootings on U.S. soil and then saying “Demand a plan.”
Here’s the thing: There already is a plan. More than one. Wayne LaPierre wants more guns everywhere. John Oliver seems to want an Australian-style gun burning. A number of Democratic lawmakers want various cosmetic firearms features banned (and they got it from 1994 to 2004, when, as we know, no innocent person was killed with a firearm ever in the United States).
Here’s the thing, though: We don’t need “a” plan. We need something that makes sense. Which, frankly, means we need to demand that both sides get together and talk things over like human beings. The NRA needs to stop being such a terrible bully, and a great many people – politicians, reporters, and average citizens – need to educate themselves on even the most basic terminology of guns so that the conversation can even happen. In short, we all need to behave more like this collection of Communists (and Reagan Democrats).
The Argument for More Guns
Even Wayne LaPierre is right twice a day, and here’s where: Gun violence is actually down as more guns hit the streets and more and more states allow people to carry concealed weapons legally. No, correlation does not equal causation. And no, concealed carry is not the only factor. Take Baltimore, where the murder rate plummeted when emergency medical technology converted massive numbers of (what would have been) yesterday’s murders into today’s attempted murders. But you know what? Bodymore, Murderland, as certain residents affectionately(?) call it, is not typical. It is the site of some of the strictest gun control in the nation (unconstitutionally so). In the nation at large, where concealed carry laws mean assailants don’t know who has legal means to return fire, the Department of Justice tells us that non-fatal firearm crimes declined 69 percent between 1993 and 2011. Or, put another way, they dropped even more precipitously than did firearm homicides.
Let me stress that again: Even though fewer people are actually buying guns than once did, the fact that a minority do so and carry them legally is enough to deter criminals from attacking those of you who don’t, and it doesn’t even produce a bump in accidental deaths. (If you follow that last link, you’ll see that it doesn’t actually get rid of crime – criminals just steal things when and where they don’t have to risk a confrontation. I’m more than OK with that.)
So yeah, gun violence in general is down. You know what’s up? The kind of mass shootings that make a big splash in the news. Which is presumably why only 12 percent of Americans think/know gun violence has markedly declined. Funny how these shootings happen in gun-free zones (schools, military bases, etc), where the shooter is guaranteed to have at least several minutes during which no ones fires back.
This is the great fallacy of gun-free zones: When you make it illegal to have a firearm at any given location, the people who care to follow the law will be unarmed; those who planned to commit felonies anyway will carry away. This is why I have great respect for Kansas’ unorthodox approach to gun-free zones. In many states, placing a “no guns” sign on the entrance to your premises makes it illegal to carry a firearm inside. But in Kansas, you have to go a step farther and use metal detectors and/or pat-down personnel to make it illegal. That is, you have to give legal gun owners some peace of mind that they aren’t the only ones unarmed.
Is it a perfect solution? No. The Washington Navy Yard has such security, but their shooter smuggled in a 30-inch-long shotgun for the second-deadliest military-base rampage to date. A motivated killer can and will smuggle whatever weapon he wants to use into whatever facility he so chooses. But the harder he has to work for it, the more likely he is to be caught before ending lives. And considering the idea that it probably (at the very least “arguably”) is an individual’s right to tell folks they can’t have a weapon on his property (however stupid it is to exercise that right), I think the Kansas model is an excellent compromise. May the rest of the nation take note.
Slaughter of the Innocents
But the rise of gun-free zones is by no means the only factor in increased mass shootings. There’s also the fact that pop culture has, for several decades now, been conditioning our kids with the same techniques militaries have always used to turn men into killers. (Please see Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s On Killing. All of it.) Why? Because it’s profitable. (And sometimes it just plain helps tell the story better. If you ever watched “Batman: The Animated Series,” you know that Batman and his pals avoided full-auto gunfire way too easily. It’s revealed in the commentary that the creators couldn’t use more-plausible handguns because of “repeatability.” Kids were more likely to get their mitts on handguns.) This is a culture problem: Americans need to stop being so lazy about teaching their kids right from wrong.
You know what does go up – and always will go up – with the number of people who own guns? The suicide rate. Anybody who says otherwise just doesn’t know how suicide works. People who plan it out and get it done are a tiny minority. Most suicides happen when impulse and means converge on the same moment, as on a bridge. And someone who has a firearm always has the means, and it’s one that’s a lot easier to employ on impulse than most any other, both physically and psychologically.
Each suicide is its own tragedy, but this doesn’t mean people don’t have the right to own such a dangerous tool. It does mean that anyone who struggles with suicidal thoughts should be persuaded not to exercise that right.
A similar issue, and in my mind the best argument for gun control, is that of child deaths. A lot of kids die every year because an adult was irresponsible enough to leave a firearm somewhere it could be accessed. We need stiffer penalties for people who allow their kids to negligently die. And we need a gun culture that stigmatizes those behaviors (and a variety of other “gun-nut” stupidities).
And then there’s the fact that, while having gun-toting folks walking invisibly among us makes society as a whole safer from violent crime, those with the guns are less safe than the rest of us. If people know you own guns, some of them may break into your home to take them. If you end up in a threatening situation on the street and show your weapon, your chances of dying by that same weapon are pretty dang high. Its very presence escalates the situation. Hell, almost a tenth of law enforcement officers killed on duty are done in with their own hardware, and they attend many more seminars on that situation than do most concealed-carry holders.
The Argument for More Gun Control
Despite those very real pitfalls mentioned above, I do believe in more guns. The deterrent factor is real, as is the human right to own a weapon. But I also believe in a lot more gun control.
Ever heard that an unenforceable law is no law at all? There’s at least a measure of truth to that claim, which is why it’s so important that the NRA et al quit making it impossible to enforce gun laws.
We have some good ones: Convicted of a violent felony? (Or, well, any felony.) Illegal to buy a firearm. Declared insane? Illegal to buy a firearm. Which is why anyone with a Federal Firearms License (that is, a professional legal gun seller) must run the purchaser through a national check center to see if they are a felon or otherwise barred from buying guns.
But person-to-person sales are regulated on a state-by-state basis only, and plenty of states have no background-check requirements. That is, it’s still illegal to buy as a felon, but the seller has no way of knowing who is or isn’t one. It’s called the “gunshow loophole,” but it might as well be called the “Walmart parking lot loophole,” because that’s where a lot of gun sales go down.
There’s a really simple solution to this: Stipulate that person-to-person sales take place with the participation of an FFL-holder to run that cursory check. There could be designated booths for this at gun shows, and elsewhere folks could meet at the gun store and be charged a nominal fee. In fact, that’s exactly how the law works when it comes to shipping firearms to buyers across state lines. And before you get upset about the idea that the feds will use their database to come after your guns, let me point out that there is no such database.
Will there still be folks who ignore that law? Of course. But those of us who wish to abide by it will have alarm bells the next time we decide we want to get rid of a Glock and find that the prospective buyer wants to “avoid all that hassle.” Those looking to purchase weapons illegally, too, will have to worry that each attempt to persuade a potential seller to violate the law will net them a visit from the police. It is a hassle, but the peace of mind that comes with it is more than worth it.
Those who, like Antonin Scalia, say such a law is useless because some will get guns illegally anyway don’t seem to realize that this logic would nullify all laws. (Perhaps it has escaped Justice Scalia that laws against murder don’t actually prevent every murder.) And when The Firearms Blog points out that there’s a surge of homemade zipguns in Australia – seeking to refute the notion that “all guns start out legal before they become illegal (via theft or rogue dealers)” – they don’t seem to realize that this really only shows how effective gun control can be. Most of those weapons are pitiful single-shots, likely as dangerous to the user as any intended victim and completely useless past knife range. The fact that professional criminals are resorting to these speaks volumes.
And guess what: The vast majority of Americans want these background checks; it is only money from big gun companies flowing through the NRA and other lobby groups to lawmakers that keeps this from happening. Well, that and the NRA’s brilliance at subverting recall processes when lawmakers do follow the will of the people and the spirit of the law.
You know what else we should do on the gun-control front? License people to buy ammo. Seriously: When I walk into a store to buy a 50-count box of explosives, I should have to flash a card that says I’m old enough, have no violent felonies on my record, and have passed a test saying I know proper gun safety. It’s really that simple. We license people to use those deadly weapons called “cars;” let’s start doing it for the ones called “bullets.” The government’s stuck with the cleanup when we screw up with either, after all.
So There You Have It
Taking what makes sense from both sides, we can have a real path toward curbing gun violence – without infringing on basic rights. Sure there’s plenty more to debate in the details. (Ten-round mag-capacity limits? I’m not a fan, for a couple of reasons. But anyone who tells you it doesn’t matter because “mag changes are so fast” has no clue what a shooting looks like.) And we should have that debate, once we’ve agreed to strive for a framework that vilifies neither gun-toting wackjobs nor hairless liberal cowards.